NFL = Not for Long: Tim Tebow Can Still Improve as a Passer

Matt Fitzgerald@@MattFitz_geraldCorrespondent IIIJune 8, 2012

FLORHAM PARK, NJ - MAY 24:  Tim Tebow #15 of the New York Jets work out at an organized team activity at the New York Jets Atlantic Health Jets Training Center on May 24, 2012 in Florham Park, New Jersey.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

Tim Tebow is a New York Jet, and he’s excited! He beat that word to death in his opening press conference more than the media has beaten to death any and every story about Tebow himself. 

But why does everyone say Tebow can’t improve? The debate has been exciting, but incredibly short-lived to project the career play of a quarterback who just entered the league three years ago.

With the media coverage and spotlight only intensifying by a move to the Big Apple, it seems Tebow has been in the league for 15 years as much as he's been discussed. But he hasn't been. It's only been two. 

How does Tebow stack up with his current competition, on both his team and within the city he plays for? Entering his third season, with zero as a full-time starter, it’s more favorable than you might think. 

Remember that other New York QB, who just won a Super Bowl?

Eli Manning took over a 5-2 Giants team quarterbacked by Kurt Warner, who resurrected not one, but two abysmal franchises and took them each to the Super Bowl, winning one with the St. Louis Rams in 1999, as I’m sure you all know.

Manning stunk it up in his first half-season as a starter. Even the beginning of his second year, his first as a full-time starter, he was still not playing at a very high level. 

It’s hard to believe now, but Manning’s completion percentage in his first 16 career games? 51.6 percent. Yet look at how much he has improved, and it took him four full seasons as a starter to crack the 80s in passer rating. 

This below-the-50-percent-threshold is exactly the criticism Tebow faces. Tebow has started 16 games, including 2 playoff games, but again: never a full season. It looks like that won’t change for at least another year. 

Tebow entered the lockout-shortened 2011 season as the No. 3 QB on the depth chart. After a 1-4 start, which put the Denver Broncos at 7-24 in their previous 31 games, Tebow took them on a 7-4 run to end the season. 

His skill set morphed a stagnant ground game into the best rushing attack in the NFL. He brought Willis McGahee back from the dead. He was throwing to fellow raw first-round pick Demariyus Thomas, as well as Eric Decker, Daniel Fells, an oft-injured Eddie Royal, and the scrappy Matt Willis. 

He then took down the mighty Pittsburgh Steelers and their top-ranked defense in the playoffs in overtime–and more with his arm than his legs. Against the No. 1 rated pass defense in the NFL, he threw for 316 yards, including an 80-yard touchdown to win the game in overtime. 

The black and gold were shorthanded without free safety Ryan Clark and with a hobbled Roethlisberger, but it wasn’t a half-bad game from Tebow, especially since he “can’t throw.” 

Onto the competition on his own team: Sanchez’s completion percentage doesn’t blow anyone away, either. In his three-year career, Sanchez has managed an underwhelming 55.3 completion percentage, and just 53.8 in his first full season at starter. 

The immobile Sanchez also benefited from elite defensive units in his first two seasons, as well as stellar running games that had nothing to do with his play. 

Two statistics that often define a quarterback are yards-per-attempt and passer rating, with the former perhaps being the most important as far as judging the value of a player. 

Tebow has a career mark of 6.75 yard per attempt, while Sanchez has one of 6.51. Tebow has a 75.3 career passer rating, while Sanchez has a 73.2, including a 63.0 in his first full season as a starter. 

Then there’s this: Sanchez is more turnover-prone than Tebow. In Sanchez’s first 16 games, he recorded more turnovers than Tebow, as did some guy named Manning in his first full season as a starter. 

Oh, and Tebow can run with the football pretty well, and make plays outside the pocket that Sanchez simply cannot. However, Sanchez will be the starter moving forward, because the team still thinks he can improve.

Much has been made of Tebow’s star power and fame. The most famous Jets quarterback ever, Joe Namath, didn’t exactly give a ringing endorsement to the newly acquired Tebow.

Has anyone seen Namath’s career stat line?  

I know it’s a far different game today than in Namath’s heyday, but still. As “bad” as Tebow is throwing the ball, it’s hard to believe he won’t improve at all, and it’s hard to believe he will end up with a similarly awful TD-INT ratio as Namath. 

You could argue: “Well Namath didn’t improve!” There’s a reason for that. In a word: lifestyle. Let’s just say Tebow doesn’t flow like Broadway Joe. 

Maybe it isn't pretty, but all these New York quarterbacks have shown they can get it done in crunch time, in the postseason, and have proven to be winners.

Tebow has had comparable success to Sanchez and Manning at the same stage of his young career, and hasn't benefited from as talented of a roster as those two in any season with the Denver Broncos.

With Tebow and Sanchez now on the same team, things will get mighty interesting. It's been well-documented that Tebow has lined up as both punt protector and in direct snap situations, is attending Sanchez's "Jets West" private passing camp, and that he will be the No. 2 quarterback on the depth chart.

It's unclear precisely how Tebow will be used, or if he'll start eventually. Sanchez has been paid with another contract. Given Sanchez's track record of two AFC Championship appearances in his first two seasons, the Jets shouldn't give up on their incumbent quarterback yet, and wisely haven't.

Everyone else just needs to stop giving up on Tebow.


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